meta-scriptFeist On Her New Album 'Multitudes,' Instinctual Writing & The Innate Integrity Of A Song |
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Photo: Sara Melvin & Colby Richardson


Feist On Her New Album 'Multitudes,' Instinctual Writing & The Innate Integrity Of A Song

“I was taking real pleasure and care in finding new hand shapes, interior narrators, ways to spend the three to five minutes that this form called song usually fits into," Feist says about her hushed yet potent new album, 'Multitudes.'

GRAMMYs/May 1, 2023 - 08:56 pm

Feist's first album in six years, Multitudes, is full of negative spaces, but don't mistake that for vacancy. The implications are massive, but they're just that — implications. Something profound is brewing just out of frame.

"The last few years were such a period of confrontation for me, and it feels like it was at least to some degree for everyone," the mononymous singer said in a press release. "We confronted ourselves as much as our relationships confronted us… whatever was normally obscured — like a certain way of avoiding conflict or a certain way of talking around the subject — [was] all of a sudden thrust into the light."

Yet to look Multitudes in the face would be to do it a disservice. Take "I Took All of My Rings Off" — its central image of a wedding ring seems to suggest an unshackling from so many constructs and boxes. But when the song's meaning is broached, Feist demurs.

"I can't unpack that for you, because songs are very delicate mobiles that dangle to hold their own concept and interior logic," Feist tells "While they spin in your ears, they come near, then swing away far and stay in a self-evident logic that can hopefully become familiar and your own — as long as someone doesn't try and break the spell by explaining them."

Perhaps hushed yet potent tunes like "I Took All of My Rings Off" — as well as "Love Who We Are Meant To," "Of Womankind" and other highlights — are best listened to rather than dissected or psychoanalyzed.

For Multitudes, Feist has some of the best and brightest in her corner, like multi-instrumentalists Blake Mills and Shahzad Ismaily. Best of all, she's matured immeasurably — if you're unfamiliar with her trajectory, and your image of the happy-go-lucky "1234" singer on "Sesame Street" remains, Multitudes is the timely update you need.

Read on for an interview with Feist about her thinking behind — and execution of — Multitudes, which spins off into themes of family, loss and creating with intentional limitations.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

I love the negative space on Multitudes. Even when very little is happening, a massive expanse is implied. Can you talk about how you achieved, or landed on this feeling?

It's easy to be tempted to evoke the idea that I knew exactly what I was going for, but so much of the process is a kind of pure-instinct decision making. So much of what works or doesn't, or belongs — or is clearly going to need to get muted — is clear as day in an instant, and self-defining.

Slowly, it evolves to become an atmosphere that knows its own laws. So, in that way, the process is guided as much by out-the-gate production plans, like microphone choices and where and with who to work, as are these ever-evolving, rolling decisions.

Tell me all about Multitudes’ "intensely communal experimental show of the same name."

Well, yeah there's a record called Multitudes now, but that project has been a few things along the way.

To build a show that lifted out of the assumed constructs of touring was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Not to assume a bigger experience can only be found with bigger production, but to see what could be found by pulling down some of the baked-in walls that exist between the watcher and the do-er.

Like, how to really meet this unprecedented moment where a concert was a radical idea. It turned out to be a lot of people's first show back, and how many times will we get to feel a first again of something that used to be so familiar?

The feeling I was hoping to have shift under people was that after a global event like that, nothing that any one person has to say, or sing, is any more important than what anyone else would have to say. Except maybe someone who worked in an emergency room.

The above aspect, along with the caliber of out-there musicians who accompany you on the record, like Blake Mills and Shahzad Ismaily, suggests to me that you're advancing precipitously lately, from a conceptual standpoint. Can you talk about the juncture you're at in your evolution?

I'm not sure I have perspective on myself from the outside per se, but I've certainly admired Blake and Shahzad, as well as Mocky and Todd Dahlhoff and Amir Yaghmai and Gabe Noel — all of whom I've gotten musically obsessed with and in some cases played with over the years.

These songs were written in a lockdown level of solitude, I was taking real pleasure and care in finding new hand shapes, interior narrators, ways to spend the three to five minutes that this form called song usually fits into… but in making them bigger, I got a lot out of hearing where their hands took things. 

In almost all cases, it was about the player even more than what instrument they played; we weren't in a "Now we add the drums, now we add the bass" mindset. Like, I'd say "Let's get Gabe to do a pass on this one," and he'd walk in and pick up any amount of instruments and just free-associate.

You made this music after losing a parent and having a child. Can you talk about what you drew from these twin experiences?

Birth and death are two sides of the same coin. And though it seems radical to my Western-raised mind, one doesn't exist without the other.

I happened to stand at the juncture of those two in quick succession, like a lot of people do. The way they converged gave me a pretty undeniable sense of the continuum of time — the great unknown that precedes us getting to be alive and what happens after. 

I'd need to be an animator to illustrate the way it's all appeared to me since then. Our roles are interchangeable — the babies and parents and grandparents and ancestors and the stardust that begins the cycle again, the orbiting lives that touch each other like solar systems and time as the most abstract but binding force of all. 

It's breathtaking and yet so deeply normal, I just had no choice but to look really closely at it.

I love your harmonies on "Hiding Out in the Open"; they feel companionable. Tell me what that song means to you, and how you executed it — along with that radiant harmony stack. How did that one grow? 

I was playing a game with some friends called "Song A Day," where we dare each other to wrote a song a day for seven days. 

It's captained by a producer in NYC named Phil Weinrobe, and "companionable" would be the right word to describe this ultra-positive peer pressure, and the momentum that starts to build up after a few days. 

Sometimes, it's terrible, and sometimes, it's like an aperture opens on the top of my head and a song just arrives instant, mercifully, because their muse somehow knows I'm taxed and its day six and I don't have anything left — so instead of laboring over a phrase or a pattern, it just shows up.

That's how "Hiding Out" arrived. I use a little digital eight-track called the Spire that's very useful and very simple. It's essentially a toy and has many limitations, but what it can do is help me take an initial aperture arrival and expand upon it.

Your concept of "womankind" in "Of Womankind" is fascinating; in the press release, it's said to encompass "any adaptive and intelligent strength." How has your concept of womankind shifted amid shifting the cultural sands of sex and gender?

The umbrella of "mankind" had traditionally encapsulated everyone, a grandfathered in — there's another one — use of language that isn't often scrutinized.

Womankind is a provocative work because it's shaped in a similar presumption what would imply it encapsulates all of humanity within it, something that wouldn't be so easily adapted to, I believe.

Without knocking the mobile off its axis, I can say that this song showed up and felt to be a sort of collective conversation with myself at 23, 43 and 93. Cross-generational women discussing the background noise.

Finally, what is Multitudes a launching pad to? Where do you see yourself going now that you've rounded this corner and made this particular, highly personal statement?

I can't say. I suppose I'm looking forward to living, which leads to writing, which leads to recording — which usually surprises me with an album I couldn't have planned to make.

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Arooj Aftab Vijay Iyer Shahzad Ismaily
(L-R): Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily

Photo: Ebru Yildiz


Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily On New Album 'Love In Exile,' Improvisation Versus Co-Construction And The Primacy Of The Pulse

When these three came together to make impressionistic, genreless, meditative music, they rose to support and bolster each other — and the result is 'Love in Exile,' a work of quiet integrity that exudes friendship and otherworldly beauty.

GRAMMYs/Mar 24, 2023 - 02:59 pm

When Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily stepped into a New York City studio to record their first trio album, they did so with nearly nonexistent advance preparation.

Which is borderline axiomatic, as all three musicians hail from improvisatory spaces. 

Aftab, a GRAMMY-winning Urdu vocalist, has been clear about improvisation's importance to her work. Genre-spanning pianist and composer Iyer has forged a legacy throughout the creative-music space, including in what we tend to designate as jazz. As for bassist and Moog synthesist Ismaily, his sheer versatility and range in that realm is staggering.

Still, did the music the three made together count as improvisation? Not so fast, says Iyer.

"I don't even think that 'improvisation' is the right word for it, because it's actually just co-composition in real time," the pianist — also a Harvard professor — tells "It's not taking solos or something. It's really like, OK, well, this is what the song is. Whatever's happening now, this is the song. So, what should happen next in the song?

Read More: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album Vulture Prince, The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care

That sovereignty of the now — and of each other — governs their new album, Love in Exile, the fruitage of this triangulation that arrives on Mar. 24. Together, Aftab, Iyer and Ismaily seem to slow time; the sound of tracks like "To Remain/To Return," "Eyes of the Endless" and "Sharabi" is capacious but never diffuse, abstract but never aimless.

Aftab's frequently described as "ethereal," but that doesn't really do her justice; despite the transportive nature of her natural instrument, she sounds steadfast, planted to the earth. On piano and Rhodes, Iyer adds tremulous textures that never intrude; they always buoy and support. The resounding heartbeat of Ismaily's bass will wham you in the solar plexus.

If any of this sounds a touch self-serious, the music sounds as natural as breath. And in conversation, Aftab, Iyer and Ismaily have an easy rapport and are quick to laughter.

Will they make more albums? Nobody's raring to prognosticate. "I love them," Ismaily says of his accompanists — in this sphere of ambient, drone, experimental, or whatever on earth you call it. "I love spending time with them, and for that reason alone, I hope that there is more time that I share with them.” 

With the album release mere hours away and a tour coming up, read on for an in-depth conversation with these leading lights about the making of Love in Exile, the confluence of their experiences and expertises, and why they could make 50 more albums — or zero.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did you three creatively triangulate in the first place?

Aftab: I met Vijay at Merkin Hall in New York. I was invited to play a set before his set. He was doing this special collab: that was Thums Up with [Das Racist MC] Himanshu Suri [a.k.a. Heems], [rapper and drummer] Kassa Overall, and [Son Lux guitarist] Rafiq [Bhatia] as well.

I knew Vijay and his music from before, and I had always been like, "Wow, this guy, he is amazing." So, meeting him, I was a little, for sure, intimidated. Not intimidated, but definitely like, "Oh s—, it's Vijay."

But we did a little collab that night — just an impromptu, kind of improv thing — and it felt really great. I was so surprised that it was so easy and so beautiful and so musical. You don't expect that just happening, you know? You have to work hard to find that sort of musical collaborator.

And Shahzad: I had been told lots here and there in New York, "Hey, do you know Shahzad?"

Ismaily: [Singer/songwriter, rapper and bassist] Meshell Ndegeocello gave me [your record Bird Under Water]  before I met you. She was like, "Hey, I think I'm going to be working with this person." So, she gave me that, and then I was obsessively listening to it for a while.

Aftab: Yeah, she connected us, basically. Meshell was going to produce Vulture Prince, before we even knew what it was — before we knew anything at all. But then she got busy, and then I produced it myself. But one of the things that she did was, like, "Hey, if you want to record in Brooklyn, there's this guy, Shahzad, who has this studio."

And I was like: Shahzad — this guy Shahzad again!

Iyer: I met this being named Shahzad pretty early after he moved to New York through [drummer and composer] Qasim Naqvi, who brought him into a Burnt Sugar situation. So, I was one of the OGs of Burnt Sugar, the band that [late writer, musician and producer] Greg Tate formed. 

We would do these kinds of very open, improvised shows, or not even. It would really just be whatever happened, we would make something out of it. And that was where Shahzad started showing up and playing. It always just seemed like I never knew what he was going to play. One day, it might be drums. Another day, it might be acoustic guitar. So, he was this wild card.

And then we didn't really have a lot of chances to do anything together outside of that, until I finally called [Shahzad] and said, "Hey, can you do this thing with me and Arooj at [NYC avant-garde performance space] the Kitchen? That was in June of 2018. But I was certainly aware of Shahzad for eons.

What was the nature of the first music you made together? What mutual artistic groove did you all settle into?

Ismaily: It was truly an immediate, spontaneous listening response to what each of us were giving to each other in that moment.

Whether it was Vijay dropping a chord on the piano, and me putting my ear to the bass and trying to figure out, OK, where is he? Therefore, what will I play right now? Or, I may have started with a pulse on the bass and then Vijay came in, and then Arooj came in when she did. It was really the chemistry of who we were in the moment, and then it stayed there.

Iyer: I think it mattered that it was live.It was actually just like, OK, we've got to commit to this second. There's no do-overs here. This is a show. And I think that put us in the frame of mind of: OK, everything that happens is correct, is right. Everything that happens is meant to happen. So then, we just sort of aided that process, and it came through us.

Once your live dynamic as a trio was established, how did you go on to establish artistic parameters in the studio? How would you describe the ratio of improvisation versus previously written material?

Iyer: I think the method has always been co-construction. And since we committed to that from literally note one, or sound zero, at the first show five years ago, it's never not been that.

Aftab: I think there were definitely some soaring moments that we felt from the previous six gigs that we played before we went into the studio, but we never really wrote anything down or planned a structure. I definitely remember that even the first time we did it, we were dared to do it, really. There was a lot of super-hardcore listening and trust that was happening.

I was trusting where I thought I should come in. You know how you're like, Oh, I don't want to step on this person's toes? If it's not planned, you don't really know what the f— is going to happen. Or, If you're coming in, are you actually interrupting someone's thought? or whatever. But there was so much unspoken trust and communication between the three of us, anyway, and there was just such a great language of listening and playing happening.

Sometimes what happens is that when I start singing, everybody sort of steps back to give me space. And I hate that, because I'm just like: I am going to go with you guys. Don't make a clearing for me. It's boring now, because it's just me here alone. Play with me.

And they never backed away, and it was amazing. They have so much more than I do in terms of experience and wisdom in being musicians, and I think that every entry and exit point is coming from that — that experience that we carry as composers and musicians in our own right.

So, it's not prepared, but it is coming from [that]. It is a learned thing, and it is a skill, definitely, that's being applied there, that is a very difficult one — which is trust, intuition, listening, and basically being creative in that sense.

Ismaily: When we went into a studio after a few performances, I still felt an equal amount of gravity and focus as when we were playing live. So, I didn't have much of a different experience between the two.

Iyer: Yeah, it was basically that we learned from our live experiences how the music should go.

Arooj Aftab Vijay Iyer Shahzad Ismaily Love in Exile Album Art

Arooj, I remember reading a quote from you about how you were more focused on the sound of your words than their literal meaning. What was your approach to choosing words in that regard — aurally, or even orally, as per open and resonant syllables?

Aftab: Yes, you're correct. The approach here was definitely to pretend to be an instrument, as well, to whatever extent that is possible as a vocalist.

I feel like there's this kind of idea that sometimes, vocalists are like, Yeah, I want the vocals to be an instrument, but to some degree, that's just not possible because it's not the same. You need vowels and stuff, and you need words to really get things going. Sometimes, the words are the instrument too. They're actually the keys sometimes.

So, I had fragments of poetry. Some of it's from Vulture Prince. Some of it's from Bird Under Water. And then, some of it's completely new stuff that I'd been thinking about. But I chose it based on the mood of where I thought the songs were going musically.

It's not entirely disjointed, but in terms of my intentional approach, it's not meant to be the focus. It's not meant to be the song. It's not meant to tell the story. I think I wanted the three of us to be telling the story — not just me, the singer. So, in that way, my intention was for it to be less intentional of an approach.

But of course, it's subtle. The listener and listen and be like: There's a vocalist, and bass player, and piano player, and it's a song. But, if you see, also, I'm not there 90% of the time. There's long sections where I'm not there.

So, I was interested in f—ing with this thing. The role of the vocalist and the lyrics and the storytelling, and how we can equalize the thing, for real. I'm still really inspired by it and playing with it. As you can see, I'm even messing it up in my own language of how to describe it. But it's fun, and it's great.

But the tone of the music itself: in a lot of the pieces, Vijay would start, and then it would definitely be something that I'd think of how it's making me feel, and go from there. Is it a theme of spring? Is it a theme of longing? Is it a theme of super-absolute despair? Is it feeling like: should I take it to a more hopeful place? That kind of stuff was all going on there.

Vijay, can you describe your pianistic approach to this music, perhaps as opposed to other music you're involved with?

Iyer: You know, what I think I was able to do inside of the music was focus on unity rather than focus on standing out as a pianist. So, really, all the choices are compositional rather than playerly or musicianly. I'm really never trying to grandstand at all, or say, Check this out. It's never that.

It's always more like, How do we hold each other together, and how do we keep it moving, and how do we build it? How do we sculpt the totality of this? So, all the choices I make are about that. It's not about piano stuff or keyboard stuff.

Sometimes, having the piano, the Rhodes, and various electronic things I'm doing gives me an expanded palette — a certain way to think compositionally. Even if it's just setting a certain tempo using the delay pedal on the Rhodes, so that then I can just play one note and I'm still in the song somehow. The pattern is kind of in line with what else is happening with Shahzad or something.

So, [it's] that kind of thing, where it's really constructive decisions about how to strengthen what's already here. How to offer something that others can strengthen. It's that kind of thing.

I just listened to Love in Exile on a terrific sound system, and I felt the pulse of your bass so powerfully in my chest. In my last interview with Vijay, he was talking about the primacy of the pulse, and I imagine you all feel the same way. 

Ismaily: So, Vijay and Arooj and I have certainly had a plethora of experiences in music outside of this trio — playing with other people, playing in other contexts. And then many of those things make their mark on us, and then we bring that sense of personage into this trio.

I remember quite early on, when I began to play with [guitarist] Marc Ribot and [drummer] Ches Smith in this trio that we had. Marc would often say, sometimes somewhat aggressively: "Listen: rubato does not mean there's no pulse. If you start to hear me play in a free, nontraditional, non-chord-changes, rhythmic way, it does not mean I'm not feeling a pulse underneath that.

Marc Ribot had a very anti-languid, or lack-of-tension feeling about ambient spaces. He felt like when something ambient is taking place, you still viscerally feel the heartbeat of a pulse within that. Whether or not you indicate it, whether you only play a drone, you still feel a sense of time and connection with a rhythmic undertone.

That's one thing that flows into my positioning in this group. So, as things are taking place and Vijay is making a beautiful landscape and Arooj comes in with a few words, I'm still feeling a pulse, and then I start to play from that — whether I'm indicating it quite strongly and giving some sort of 5/4 doot-do, doot-do, or whether I'm still playing much longer phrases, but feeling an internal pulse within that.

The second thing is that I want to give a little shout-out to Badawi — [multi-instrumentalist and composer] Raz Mesinai, who I played with. He would call me in to play bass with him and suggest that I play in a hypnotic way, so that you just felt like your consciousness was unfolding across the desert — unfolding across a limitless landscape of sand dune after sand dune. Which feels the same, but you still feel movement and the subtlety of change.

These two threads of exterior experiences to this trio make their presence known as I'm sitting and playing with Vijay and Arooj.

Arooj Aftab Vijay Iyer Shahzad Ismaily

*Photo: Ebru Yildiz*

After these album and touring cycles wind down, are there any concrete plans to make this particular configuration a going concern? And as an addendum to that, what would you like to tell the readers about anything else you're excited to be working on in 2023 and beyond?

Ismaily: It's been interesting to be doing press these last few days, because I often spend time with Arooj and Vijay just performing on stage, and not with a great deal of frequency. Over the last few days, here I am in a room with them, listening to them speak, sharing company with them.

Whatever comes — it may take place, it may not take place. I can get hit by a bus, so who knows? But, internally to myself, I have that feeling. And because I have that feeling, I will probably request to look toward it, at least with my own eyes and my own time and my own voice and my hands.

There's this band, Ida, whose music I was absolutely in love with in the '90s when I was working on becoming and working as a musician. They went on a long hiatus, and it looks very much likely that they're going to make another record, and I will get to produce it or be a significant part of it with them. That's what I'm looking forward to outside of this trio.

Aftab: I'm really excited for the album to come out, and I'm excited to see people's reactions to it. We're going to go on the road a little bit this year, which is going to be great, and that will probably ascertain if we're going to keep doing this. It's really all about how we feel — if we're really into that for this particular project. No advanced decision-making here.

So, yeah, we're probably going to do one [more], or maybe we're never going to do one again. Who the f— knows, right? I love it. I think that's the vibe. There's no business model.

And since we are going to play a lot of these shows without writing down anything, there will be so much new material. So, we may as well put out 50 more albums after this tour.

Ismaily: Yes!

Iyer: So we could be like the Dead?

Ismaily: Oh, let's get your Grateful Dead space where we just have a huge parking lot of crazy people all the time!

Aftab: And then, yeah, my boring answer that is everyone's answer is: yes, I'm working on a new record. My new album is supposed to come out in 2024. I just produced a short album for Anoushka Shankar, which is going to come out in the fall.

Iyer: I do have a couple of things that may or may not come out this year. We kind of have to figure out what's the best moment for those things to happen. One is a trio album with Tyshawn [Sorey] and Linda [May Han Oh]. I guess you could say the follow-up to Uneasy. It may come out at the end of this year, or beginning of next year sometime.

The other is that there's a recording of three different orchestral works that might come out sometime this summer, by Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

And then I have pieces I'm writing for different ensembles. A classical pianist named Shai Wosner — I'm writing a piece for him and a string orchestra. I'm doing a piece for Sō Percussion, and a piece for this pianist named Vicky Chow. And I wrote a cello concerto that got recorded that may come out sometime as well.

[As per the future of this trio,] I imagine that anytime we are invited somewhere and are able to do it, that we will rise to it. And I imagine that could happen at any point in the rest of our lives. That's the kind of guy I am.

Whether that means there's going to be a bunch more albums or zero more albums almost doesn't matter to me at this point. If there's more music that we cherish that we want to share with the world in that particular way and go through a similar cycle again, then that would make sense. But I think that we'll always have the capacity to come together and create. And so as long as that is nurtured, then I'm content, as far as that goes.

Vijay Iyer On His New Trio Album Uneasy, American Identity & Teaching Black American Music In The 21st Century



Photo: Jimmy Hubbard


Brann Dailor Talks 20 Years Of Mastodon, New 'Medium Rarities' Collection And How He Spent The Coronavirus Lockdown Drawing Clowns

Mastodon founding member and drummer/singer tells about how the band's "homeless" songs led the GRAMMY-winning metal group to release a collection of rare tracks, left-field covers and B-sides

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2020 - 03:00 pm

We can all agree that 2020 is a milestone, albeit challenging, year: There's that end-of-the-world-feeling pandemic that's been going on since March. And oh yeah, it's Mastodon's 20-year anniversary, too. 

Brann Dailor, the band's drummer/singer and founding member, has been quarantined at home in Atlanta for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. His mother, who "smokes like it's her job, unfortunately, and has COPD," Dailor says, is at risk for COVID-19, so he didn't visit her in his Rochester, N.Y., hometown. (He jokes that his mom is akin to Keith Richards: eternal.) 

Fortunately, his other family, Mastodon, ended up using the last six months in lockdown wisely. Dailor and the rest of the group—bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bill Kelliher—compiled Medium Rarities, a collection of rarities, covers and B-sides that marks their two decades together as a groundbreaking, GRAMMY-winning quartet that's often narrowly classified as "metal." 

In a wide-ranging conversation with, the talkative Brann Dailor waxed prolifically on everything from the "homeless" songs that led to Medium Rarities, how he drew 101 clowns in 101 days during the coronavirus lockdown, and how, after 20 years with Mastodon, he continues to focus on the now

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Medium Rarities is a collection of, as the name implies, rarities and covers. Was the project planned before the pandemic? 

I mean, we were ruminating on it. The story of our song, "Fallen Torches," explains it. A few years ago, we bought a building in Atlanta because two of the major practice facilities in town closed down. There were hundreds of homeless bands in Atlanta, and we were included in that group. 

[Guitarist/vocalist] Bill's basement is very small. There's a little studio down there, but the four of us have been in the band together for 20 years; we're not cramming in that basement to write material.

So we had to figure something out. We started looking for a building where, maybe as a band, we could go in on a building together and build it out and end up with like 20-30 rooms. So we did that. We also put a recording studio in the bottom part. 

When we got everything totally hooked up and rockin', and we got the drums set up, we were all very excited to see [what it sounded like], what we had as far as a room. That's kind of a make-or-break: whether or not we can record an actual album in our own studio. 

I went over to Bill's basement and I had like three riffs strung together. He had a couple parts. We just started, and we put ["Fallen Torches"] together. We demoed it at Bill's, then we took it over to our place, recorded it and put all the bells and whistles on there. 

Very exciting that it sounded great!

Yeah, we were stoked about what we had done, then [guest singer] Scott Kelly had come to start rehearsals for a tour that we were gonna do together. He laid down some vocals for it, and we said, "We can just put this thing out, right? It's finished." Got it mixed and mastered and said, "Here you go, Warner Bros., check it out. We want to put this out ahead of our tour with Scott Kelly." It made perfect sense. 

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Ha! Uh-oh—foreshadowing. 

So two weeks into the tour: What's going on? Where's the song? I don't know what happened. Bureaucracy. Red tape. The circumstances were explained to me at some point in time, like a year and a half ago. It has left my brain, like many other things. We had talked about it in the press, too, which is just a no-no. We thought [it] was a done deal. So we had to put it in the corner; we didn't know what to do with it. Should it go on our next album …

Even though it was meant to be a stand-alone one-off with Scott ... 

Yeah. Well honestly, with every single album, there'll be riffs and parts that we call "homeless riffs." "Remember that one riff from 2006? Let's revisit that." For instance, the very first riff you hear on [2017 album] Emperor Of Sand is a 10-year-old riff written in 2007 that was sitting in the computer for that long. 

So basically, our manager Kristen [Mulderig, president of the RSE Group,] came up with the idea. "Listen, you guys have all these songs … all your covers that only came out on a special release; seven-inches that only serious collectors have … It'll be cool to put all that weird stuff that's been hanging out for a long time all together."

So our "homeless" songs now live on an actual master and a release all together. And it was also a vehicle where we can finally release "Fallen Torches" and also say, "This is our 20th year. You've collected all this. This is all your shrapnel."

Phew. Long story, great idea. 

And that's the story of Medium Rarities, a cool thing to put out while we are in the middle of writing for our next actual full-length. We're talking about going to the studio somewhere around late September [or] October.

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You did some great covers for Medium Rarities and some that seem left field, like Feist and The Flaming Lips. Do you have a favorite "rarity" from the record? 

I really like the Feist song, "A Commotion." I thought that was so cool. I want to do so much more of that [artists performing each other's tunes]. We did ["Later... with Jools Holland" in the U.K.] years ago, and that's when we met [Leslie Feist] and we met Bon Iver. It was such a cool thing because, you know, when you play [in] a metal band, you just don't get those kinds of opportunities. You don't get invited to those parties. When you're there, you kind of feel like you don't really belong, like a voyeur in a weird way. But the Bon Iver guys wanted to talk to us, they wanted to meet us, and they said, "We love you guys. We listen to Mastodon before we go on stage."

Mastodon have been nominated for a bunch of GRAMMYs, with one win in 2018 for Best Metal Performance for "Sultan's Curse" off Emperor Of Sand. I'm wondering, what is success to you? Is it an award? Or the band being featured on "Game Of Thrones"? Or …

Honestly, success for me personally is the moment that the four of us can sit together and listen to a finished piece of art that we made together. The pinnacle of success for me is when we listen back and it's tears of joy, high-fives, hugs. 

A different topic: your clown drawings. I've seen some online.

I was doing a lot of drawing when everything locked down. When I was a kid, I would draw all the time. I was the kid in high school or in middle school that could draw Eddie from Iron Maiden, so everyone wanted me to draw Eddie on jackets or book covers. I'd charge them $4 because it cost $4 for a hit of acid. "If I do a book cover, I can go to [name redacted!] house, get me a hit of acid for the weekend; it'll be great."


The doors of perception were open and my third eye was squeegeed quite well. So I hadn't drawn anything in like 25 years. The urge to sit down and draw something started to leave me in my late-teens as my life got busier; I just stopped drawing. All my concentration was towards drumming and hanging out with my girlfriend, my friends.

But I had a couple of piles, bags of art supplies in closets in my home. I was always [like], "One day, I'm going to crack you open, I'm going to write on you!" So I drew a clown on the first day of the lockdown on my 11-by-14 paper pad with like 20 pages in it. I liked how it came out. Of course, in the beginning, it was like, "This [lockdown] is gonna go on for 14 days and then we'll be back up and running and everything will be fine."

I drew the second clown. The third clown. Then I drew 101 clowns in 101 days straight. Every single day.

Different clowns?

There were all different themes. I did a Steve Harvey clown. I did a Richard Simmons clown … I did a clown in an open casket. A clown with a balloon floating up and the balloon said, "I miss you," on it. I did two clowns hugging. I did a Texas Chain Saw Massacre clown. I did a Silence Of The Lambs clown. It was crazy.

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Are the drawings online? 

I haven't posted them because I went off all my social media months ago, but you can search. A guy here in town published a couple, and Metal Hammer published some as well. I think there's going to be a coffee-table book.

But I think it was just for me. It went to a snowball of friends; more people would get added to the daily clown list. It got to where it would take me 45 minutes to send in the clowns to everyone. It went to all sorts of people: Lars Ulrich [Metallica] and Josh Homme [Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal] and all my buddies from tour who were sitting at home. Every once in a while, it'd be 8 p.m. and I'd get texts from people like, "Hey, are you OK? Where's today's clown?" I'd be like, "It's coming, hang on. I had sh*t to do today!"

Does Mastodon's 20th anniversary make you thoughtful? Do you consider it a big landmark? 

I thought it was more impressive when we were a younger band and I would know that another band had been around for that long. Like, "How do you do that with the same people?" Well, usually it's not the same people; you have [band] member changes throughout the years, which makes sense. Yet here we are: same four dudes, 20 years. 

Quite honestly, the only time I haven't really thought about Mastodon in the last 20 years was over this little pause. That was the first time in forever, 'cause I'm always thinking about it. It's always this moving motion: I'm not thinking about 20 years behind me, I'm only focused on what's happening now and what we're doing right now. The constant buzzing in my brain is about new material and what to do with it and how to make it better.

Why Lamb Of God Frontman Randy Blythe Is Rejecting The 'New Abnormal'

Blake Mills

Photo by Kourtney Kyung Smith 


Blake Mills On Staying Creative During Quarantine, Turning People Into Songs

The guitar wunderkind collaborated with Cass McCombs on his borderless, minimal new album, 'Mutable Set'

GRAMMYs/May 6, 2020 - 07:59 pm

Over the course of a decade, Blake Mills has worked with everyone from JAY-Z to Fiona Apple. But live streaming, he says, has rendered him the most anxious he’s been since high school. 

As musicians hunker down and switch on their webcams during the coronavirus pandemic, Mills has felt pressure to follow suit, but he hasn’t found it easy—which also goes for writing new material. "[It’s] like you’re sitting by a pond with a fishing pole and you see a fish in the water: "Oh, that’s interesting,'" he tells The Recording Academy, describing woodshedding at home while in isolation. "There’s no [immediate desire] to turn that into something."

The guitarist recorded his new album Mutable Set, which will be released May 8 on his label New Deal Records, well before COVID-19 bound much of us in our houses and apartments. Still, the intimate yet expansive vibe of songs like "Vanishing Twin," "Farsickness" and "A Window Facing A Window" feels germane to a moment in which, between four walls, the barriers between hours, days and weeks seem to have evaporated.

"This record deals with an awareness of two things—people and experiences in life that are precious, and whatever waits down the moat for something to drop," he said in a press release. ‘[The title] is a [theatrical] term that deals with anything that could change or be lost all together."

Mills has specific people and things in mind that are mutable sets, but he's not hungry to divulge the details. "I think there’s a reason it went from reality into a song," he explains. "To preserve that, you’ve just gotta let it now be a song rather than a person."

Read on for an interview with Mills about that person-to-song alchemy as well as creating while in quarantine, co-writing with Cass McCombs and achieving more with less while recording Mutable Set.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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How are you holding up in Los Angeles?

It’s kind of peaceful and stressful at the same time. It’s definitely taking its toll psychically, from a creative standpoint of having all this time and wanting to do something useful or artful with it, to make some purpose out of it. 

But [according to] everybody I’ve been talking to in the creative community, it’s not a hugely productive time by and large. I feel a little less guilty about not feeling super productive, but I’m trying and waiting for that to turn over.

There’s a lot of pressure on creative people to be perky and resourceful while in quarantine.

Everyone seems to land on live streaming. It does give you a quick reward of serotonin. It’s so different than performing for an audience or having people over or something like that. 

But even just thinking about writing or trying to start a project, or if I’m playing guitar and there’s something interesting happening, there’s some part of my brain that’s like, "I should try to document this. I should try to record this or do something with this." Then the rest of my brain is like, "What is the point?"

Are you referring to the live streaming process or the demoing process?

More probably the demoing process. Or just the writing process. When you’re messing around and you stumble upon something musically that seems kind of interesting or at least better than what you’ve been playing for the rest of the day, in a normal creative environment, you’re like, "What does this mean? Should I do something with this?"

And in this environment, it seems a little more like "Oh, that’s nice." Like you’re sitting by a pond with a fishing pole and you see a fish in the water: "Oh, that’s interesting." There’s no [immediate desire] to turn that into something.

Something about a stranger’s kitchen jam session chirping through my phone speaker feels impersonal and disconnected.

Yeah, it is. There’s exceptions to that rule. There’s a label called Sahel Sounds that works with a lot of artists in Africa, like in Mauritania and in the Sahara Desert. A lot of those artists have never left the country; they’ve never gone on tour. So they’ll sometimes get recordings through WhatsApp or cell phone recordings of these guys playing at a wedding.

And it’s some of the best musicianship I’ve heard in a long time. There’s this guy who plays the [lute] ngoni named Jeich Ould Badou. This guy is unbelievable. Every month or something during the quarantine, the label would put up an EP [as part of the Music From Saharan WhatsApp project]. 

That degradation process that goes through that particular app, plus a cellphone and a copy of a copy of a copy… it gives it a certain kind of patina that is not dissimilar from when people try to make a record sound like it was done in the 1960s nowadays to give it a sense of authenticity or nostalgia or whatever. 

I’m definitely bothered when I’m working on a project and I put time into getting it to sound a certain way and then the medium interferes with that and changes it—like most people probably would be. But I also think it’s kind of silly. Like, "You should have heard Frank Sinatra's voice when we tracked it that day!"

You can go into a lot of different rabbit holes about the nature of musical documentation. The Neil Young arguments, the David Byrne arguments

Exactly. And they’re not wrong. They’re talking about something that does matter. But it’s like talking about a thing that you ate one time. You send somebody to a restaurant to eat it and they’re not going to have the exact same thing that you ate, you know?

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Mutable Set sounds like a continuation of your ambient 2018 album Look, but with vocals. What compels you to remove borders and edges from your music?

I think at the time Heigh Ho came out [in 2014], it seemed really disconnected from my first record [2010’s Break Mirrors]. And when Look came out, it seemed really disconnected, obviously, from both of those. 

I tend to take a lot of time between records primarily because I write slowly. But also because I often don’t feel like there’s a real reason to make a record until it feels like it stands apart in some way. Or at least until a general atmosphere around what a record might sound like or how I would want to record it… those kinds of things have to emerge before it feels like it’s time to make another record.

It’s a lot easier to articulate what you don’t want something to sound like than being able to decide what you do want it to be. If there’s a lack of borders or anything on this record, it’s probably a result of the process of this one being different from previous ones. 

I’m not somebody who’s beholden to analog tape being the prime sonic medium for recorded music like a lot of people I know are. But I do think it does lend a lot of character. The sound of a record made on tape is due not only to the fact that you’re listening to analog tape, but the decision-making process that goes into working on tape—the speed to which you’re forced to work. 

Going back to degradation for a second, tape compression works in such a way where the more you add to it, the more compressed and sort of muddy things can quickly sound. A lot of time on this one was just spent more on getting a performance vocally and instrumentally from myself at the onset to where there was enough information in that performance that I didn’t spend too much time trying to create the record with overdubs on top of it.

So you tried to focus more on the core performance?

Yeah. More of the core performance. If that was just a solo performance from me or if it was a trio, depending on what went down on this sort of base layer, most of the overdubs and layers on top of that were going to be pretty minimal because, again, with tape, it felt more profound the more sparse they were. 

And you start to listen to the lyrics, the performance, the quality of the voice or the playing, more when you’re not given other things like guitar coming in here or percussion coming in there. You [wait] for those things to happen, but when they don’t, it forces you to digest it differently.

It seems like you’re using silence as an instrument like never before.

Yeah, I guess so. The lack of "more."

And you used a much more traditional process than I presumed you did.

I would say it was pretty traditional. This record is [my first where] I’ve done this much collaborating on during the writing. It’s something that’s familiar to me when I’m producing or [being] approached by artists to co-write, but it felt very different doing it for my own music. I felt a little lost so I tried it with a few friends and different people, and I really found a stride with Cass McCombs, who I’ve known and worked with for maybe seven or eight years. 

I’d say about half of the songs on the record ("Never Forever," "May Later," "Summer All Over," "Vanishing Twin" and "My Dear One") came about from me showing him something that I had. Maybe a version of the lyrics that felt like, ‘I’ve got this verse and I kind of like the way this one is fitting, but the second verse doesn’t mean anything to me and I don’t feel like it belongs in the song. But when I tear it up and throw it out, I can’t see anything else there because it’s been there for so long.’

A lot of music hangs out in the attic for a long time and it takes a while for me to be able to know if it’s a good idea or not and I kind of have to keep coming back to it.

It seems like a new development to have an outside party put a fresh set of ears on your songs.

Most of the time, I’m sitting on various elements of songs and I’m not sure if they fit together. Certainly [there are] ideas that feel like they have some good parts and the rest of it, I wouldn’t need it. But somebody else coming in with a fresh perspective is usually more on the instrumental side of when I’m making one of my own records, in terms of how the music comes across and, therefore, how the song comes across.

But to bring somebody in on the writing side, I think what happened in this case is that a lot of the decision-making is maybe a little more in the foundation of the song. The performance and presentation can be stripped back and just be more minimal and allow for some of those decisions to have a pathway to come through. The singer can communicate things that are not necessarily being said.

So what were those decisions? What did Cass bring to the songs specifically?

He has an innate style as a lyricist. He has a respect for the economy of a phrase and using fewer words and experimenting with what happens if you take this out, you take this out, you take this out. To have as little as possible in there and still have it be evocative. We both love music that does that. 

In this case, what was great beyond just the obvious suggestion of ‘What about this here?’ was to have somebody whose tastes are so aligned working on an idea. It’s really hard to put a value on that and to say exactly what they did. 

When somebody walks into your house or your studio, it allows you to recognize where you are in a way you couldn’t before. Like, when the plumber shows up, you realize, "Oh my god, my house is a mess." Once you find a rhythm with somebody on something, it allows you to take stock of where you are in a way that you couldn’t really see beforehand.

Would it be accurate to say that you felt lost in the weeds with the material and he helped you shape it up?

Yeah, definitely. He came in, he got where I was coming from, and I would play him an idea. I’d have this one line and I’d record it on my phone and then he would go on about his day and start sending variations on ways to sing that line. That would inspire a new section for me. Then I would send that to him and he’d come back and have variated lyrics for half of that section. 

And that’s just the process of one song. It happened very naturally and then never happened like that again on any other one. So it’s a very fluid collaboration. 

How did you choose who would accompany you on the record?

I would say most of the people that are on the record [saxophonist Sam Gendel, string arranger Rob Moose, pianist Gabriel Kahane, bassists David Boucher and Pino Palladino, drummer Abe Rounds] are people I’ve just worked with a lot in the past. The exception being [keyboardist] Aaron Embry, who is someone I’ve been a fan of for many years but had never crossed paths with. 

I just thought this would be a good excuse to reach out and make that call. I love his songwriting and I know that his approach to this music would come from the standpoint of listening to what’s happening in the song, not necessarily from the frame of mind of ‘We’re here making a record.’ 

Everybody who played on the record are people who think outside the box without having me tell them to do so.

You've said that the title of Mutable Set implies the temporary nature of everyone and everything. Any particular people, places, or things that you’ve lost — or fear to lose — come to mind?

Every one of these songs is about something or someone to me. And I know who those people are and what those things are. I think it’s important that those things and those people are not publicly attached to the songs. As a general statement, for art in general, I think it’s important to preserve the anonymity in songs so that people can hear the way the story is being told through the song rather than trying to put it together like some sort of police report.

I like that kind of aspect of when people are putting real experiences into an abstract medium. I think there’s a reason it went from reality into a song. To preserve that, you’ve just gotta let it now be a song rather than a person.

You’re left feeling the essence of loss without specifics.

Maybe those details are important for certain people, certain songs, or certain stories. Not for these songs. But that’s just for this record. That all could change on another group of songs for sure.

Tori Amos On Maintaining Faith, Vision & Conviction In Troubled Times

Feist on "Sesame Street" in 2008

Photo courtesy of PBS


"Sesame Street" Turns 50: Remembering The Series' Greatest Musical Parodies

From Feist's "1234" to Norah Jones' "Don't Know Y," here are 10 parodies of other people’s songs that the fantastic songwriting crew at "Sesame Street" have lovingly made their own through the years

GRAMMYs/Nov 16, 2019 - 12:04 am

The two most enduring and unshakable attributes of "Sesame Street"'s 50 years on the air have been multicultural unity and education in the creative arts. And it was music that’s proven to be the quintessential conduit connecting these two primary factors in the program's half-century of success throughout its entire run on television. 

Whether it was the creative use of analog synthesizers at the beginning of the very first episode aired on Nov. 9, 1969 to the Pointer Sisters’ pinball song to the guest appearances from such superstars as Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Cher, Cab Calloway, Chaka Khan, Linda Ronstadt and so many more on through to the numerous GRAMMY Awards the show's music department has won over the decades, music has always been the nucleus that keeps the power charged at 1234 Sesame Street. 

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But perhaps the most appealing aspects of the show’s lifelong love affair with recorded sound has been the virtual songbook that’s been created through the years of Sesame’s world famous song parodies—utilized to put a child-friendly and educational spin on a current hit song of the day. 

Here are 10 parodies of other people’s songs that the fantastic songwriting crew at "Sesame Street" have lovingly made their own through the years.

"Two Princes" by The Spin Doctors

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"I happened to be watching television one day and as I flipped through the channels I saw Peter Sellers on 'Sesame Street,'” recalls Spin Doctors frontman Chris Barron to the Recording Academy about the band’s appearance on Episode 3450 in Feb. 1996. "'Classic,' I thought, and I watched the rest of the segment. Peter Sellers was followed by Aretha Franklin, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Bruce Springsteen. I called my agent and asked her to call them and see if they wanted Spin Doctors. They got right back and said they'd love to have us.

"Standing on my mark with Telly, the Muppet, I confided to him that I had never worked with puppets before. He put his paw on my forearm, leaned it conspiratorially, and said, 'To tell the truth, neither have I.'"

The show has an amazing creative department who came up with the 'cooperation' version 'Two Princes.' When we arrived on the set, I tweaked a few of the lines to make them sing a little bit better. Standing on my mark with Telly, the Muppet, I confided to him that I had never worked with puppets before. He put his paw on my forearm, leaned it conspiratorially, and said, 'To tell the truth, neither have I.' 

You can see that I’m laughing at the beginning of the clip as I walk on camera. I’m very proud to have been a part of that show. Not only because of the great people who have also made appearances, but to be a part of some of the greatest educational programming ever, not to mention, 'Sesame Street' was a big part of my childhood."

"Happy, Furry Monsters" by R.E.M.

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It’s hard to really pinpoint what makes this "Sesame Street" version of what many R.E.M. fans consider the group's biggest sonic faux pas so wonderful upon its premiere on Episode 3829 in 1998. Maybe "Daysleeper" from their then-new album Up didn’t jibe with the Muppets. Perhaps it was all centered around that Muppet version of Kate Pierson of the B-52's. When we asked the men themselves, however, this even shinier, happier version of their 1991 hit single had always made sense as a "Sesame" song.

"We might not have done other songs with the Muppets but that one fitted," Mike Mills told the Sun in 2016. "They had already rewritten it as 'Furry Happy Monsters' and we said, ‘All right, why not?’ It’s not as if we were tarnishing its legacy.” That same year, Michael Stipe told NBC's Willie Geist, "It was a song written for children, and it’s still enjoyed in elementary schools around the world as far as I know.

"1234" by Feist

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In the Aug. 22, 2019 edition of the New York Times, Leslie Feist spoke at length with writer Melena Ryzik about how her 2007 indie-pop smash "1234" has become more renowned among preschoolers than hipsters in the decade since the tune received its Muppet makeover in 2008 on Episode 4161, the first episode of the show's 39th season that year.

"Do you mind, my 3-year-old has watched it 7,000 times," Feist told the Times in regards to the countless instances she’s been stopped by parents for an autograph. "And I say yes, but I always joke: You notice me because you’re a grown-up—the 3-year-olds are really only interested in the puppets. And without fail, the kids are just sort of looking at me like, who is this weird lady in the airport?’" 

But the proof is in the viewer numbers on YouTube. As it stands at press time, the "Sesame" version of "1234" has 281,064,113 views, while the original is capped at 13 million.

"Wrong" by Waylon Jennings

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"Sesame"'s first foray into movie theaters with 1985's "Follow That Bird" indeed teemed with heavyweight cameos by such comedy legends as Chevy Chase, John Candy and Sandra Bernhardt. But for young music heads, it was the appearance of the late, great Waylon Jennings as a truck driver who picks up Big Bird along the way, and the two sing a duet together on a song called "Ain’t No Road Too Long" written by the songwrtiting team of Jeff Pennig, Jeff Harrington, and Steve Pippin with additional vocals by Gordon, Grover, Olivia and the Count.

But it was in 1990 when Jennings made his official debut on the Street, appearing on episode 2850 to perform "Wrong," a song from the country great’s then-new album The Eagle, retooled to encourage Big Bird to build a properly standing block tower. Waylon and Big Bird puppeteer Carroll Spinney became pals, with Spinney going on tour with Jennings in the early '90s, where he'd make a cameo as Oscar the Grouch, the other main character he controlled. "It was more like rock 'n' roll than country," Spinney told the Muppets-based blog Tough Pigs. "And when we were in Nashville, he asked me to have Oscar ask him, 'Hey Waylon, what's the best thing about Garth Brooks?’ And then I’d answer him, 'He ain't here!'"

"Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel

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"You hear the song and then you get the piano," Billy Joel assures Oscar the Grouch when he guest starred on Episode 2533 alongside actress Marlee Matlin, mere months removed from her role as a member of the cast for Alex Cox's 1987 Joe Strummer-soundtracked masterpiece Walker. That was the deal the Piano Man set for the Grouch in order to let the beloved garbage monster keep the keys, and Oscar then begrudgingly sat through Joel serenading him with a sweet version of his 1977 hit ballad "Just The Way You Are" as Matlin translated the lyrics in American Sign Language.

Joel's appearance in 1988 came at a time when he had installed a bit of a moratorium on "Just The Way You Are," following his 1982 divorce from first wife Elizabeth Weber. But given he had a little three-year-old Alexa Ray Joel was undoubtedly an avid viewer of the show must have surely cajoled him into changing his tune.  

"Don’t Know Y" by Norah Jones

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“You came!” smiled Norah Jones to the Letter Y after leading a chorus of all the surviving members of the original "Sesame Street" cast through a welcome song that brought in HBO's 50th Anniversary special on Veteran's Day weekend 2019. It was the perfect little cherry on top of an already impossibly endearing segment that lovingly harkens back to her first appearance on the show on Episode 4081 in May 2004 when she serenaded Elmo with a vowel-friendly version of the song rewritten by longtime "Sesame Street" songwriter Christine Ferraro. "I was supposed to meet my friend today, the Letter of the Day," she told Elmo before breaking into the song. "But Y never showed up." Then they start reflecting on all the "Y" words they know until the penultimate letter in the alphabet finally showed up.

"Hold My Hand" by Hootie & The Blowfish

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Even the most ardent Hootie hater cannot help but get the feels for this insanely sweet reworking of their biggest hit, effortlessly rewiring it into a song about—what else?—practicing safety when crossing the street. "I don't know how that came together, but it was really fun," recalls guitarist Mark Bryan, speaking to the Recording Academy. "And they re-wrote the lyrics, not us. We were working off of an instrumental track so we had to re-sing everything, backgrounds and all. On set, I got to pop up through Oscar's trash can, and sit in Big Bird's nest. Literally felt like a little kid."

"There was a palpable magic being on the set of 'Sesame Street' that morning, even as an adult," adds Hootie's chief songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Jim Sonefeld. "It was only slightly dulled by the physical state I was in after another late night in Manhattan. This was a big stretch to have someone change our lyrics this drastically, especially after three self-penned platinum albums. The only reason we did it was the special place in our hearts we all still held for 'Sesame Street.' I remember the producers being grateful for our willingness and ability to adjust to the new lyrics so quickly. They did not have the same level of thanks after seeing our acting skills."

"Barn In The U.S.A." by Bruce Stringbean And The S Street Band

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This farm animal singalong from Episode 2991 in 1991 highlights the talents of "Sesame Street"'s longtime in-house lyricist Emily Perl Kingsley, who worked on the show from 1970 to 2015 when she retired having one 21 Emmy Awards for her efforts through the years. As one YouTube viewer commented, this version of the Bruce Springsteen anti-war anthem has a little darkness on the edge of its town in this version led by "Bruce Stringbean And The S Street Band" featuring performances by such Sesame power players as show songwriter Christopher Cerf, the Voice of Elmo himself Kevin Clash, Elmo's World creator Jim Martin and Avenue Q puppeteer Rick Lyons, among others. The song would also be featured on the Children’s Television Workshop album Sesame Street: Born To Add

"Letter B" By The Beetles

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Many "Sesame Street" viewers might not immediately know the name Richard Hunt without Googling. But they will most certainly know many of the beloved Muppets he had voiced in his all-too-short life after succumbing to an AIDS-related illness in 1992. Scooter, Janice, Statler, Beaker and Junior Gorg from "Fraggle Rock" were just some of the characters he portrayed through the years. But one of his truly best works just turned 40 this year when he captained an insect beat group called The Beetles through a rewiring of the title track to the Fabs' 1970 swan song to celebrate everyone's favorite first consonant in the alphabet. You can really hear the Harry Nilsson influence in Hunt’s voice as he sings as well, allowing the song to seamlessly survive ear appeal beyond the visual aspect, giving light to his immense talent taken from us far too soon.

"Don't Take Your Ones To Town" by Johnny Cash

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One of the more harrowing gunfighter ballads in the Johnny Cash canon is the cautionary tale "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" from the Man in Black's 1958 LP The Fabulous Johnny Cash. But in 1991, Cash saw his classic tune retold on Episode 2982 into "Don't Take Your Ones To Town," penned by in-house lyricist Christopher Cerf. The "Sesame Street" version finds Big Bird playing "Birdie-Big," a cowpoke who counts to 1 all over town in lieu of Cash's warning until he meets the Count and the Countess, who teach him to count higher.

Revitalized Sesame Street Records Is Stepping Into The Streaming Age